Recovering Lost Wholeness


By being unreflectively purposeful all the time we lose the ‘essence’ of who we are – which is to say, we identify more and more with the quantitative thinking mind and as a result lose touch with the qualitative nature of our true nature. The more of our lives we spend in purposeful mode the more essence we lose until we have identified completely with what Colin Wilson calls ‘the robot’ and ‘who we really are has become a total stranger. And it is not just that who we really are has become a stranger, it has become an unwelcome stranger, a rejected stranger…


Purposefulness is a dangerous dish to nibble on, therefore! It is a dish with a drug in it that can send us to sleep very quickly, a drug of forgetfulness. It tastes very good – addictively good in fact – but the price we pay for it is our ‘inner freedom’ and our inner freedom (to not be who or what our thinking says we are) is who we really are. The more we nibble away on the dish of purposefulness the less essence we have, the less inner freedom we have, the less Wholeness we have. Very quickly we’ve been compromised; before we know it (literally) we have none left at all…


When we’ve lost our inner freedom (our inner connectedness with who we really are) in this way then the only thing that’s left for us to do is to keep on snacking on the dish of purposefulness. The only thing that is left for us is to keep on drinking the wine of forgetfulness, so that we keep on forgetting who we really are. We keep on with our ‘unreflective purposeful behaviour’ in the unexamined hope of recovering our lost Wholeness, which is the Totality of who we truly are. This Wholeness is what we are really looking for with our ceaseless purposefulness; we’re caught in a trap therefore – we’re using the ‘purposeful mode’ to help us find what that same purposeful mode caused us to lose (or ‘forget’) in the first place!


We are of course going to deny this. We’re going to say that our purposes are legit – we’re going to say that our goals, our purposes are valuable and worthwhile in themselves, not because of what they ‘unconsciously represent’ to us. We’re going to say that there’s no game going on! We’re going to say that the reason we’re so busy all the time is because we’re doing important stuff, stuff that needs to be done. The truth is of course that what we’re really trying to do is to recover our lost Wholeness – that’s what we trying to do but we don’t know it. We’re trying to get back what we lost but don’t know we have lost! We’re scratching an itch we don’t acknowledge ourselves as having – the itch to be Whole when we’re not! In some kind of an unexamined way we imagine that our Wholeness can be found in our purposes, in our goals and this is why – in the Western world at least – we’re so frenetically busy all the time. If we’re not busy working we’re busy entertaining ourselves and we’re doing the same thing with our entertainment that we’re doing with our more serious, goal-orientated activity.


When we go into a city we see great activity all around us. There’s an awful lot of busy-ness going on. The world will tell us that this busy-ness in all about ‘the economy’, or ‘commerce’ or ‘industry’, or ‘progress’, and so on, but really it’s about us trying (in a perfectly futile way) to get our lost Wholeness back. If I get myself a new pair of top-of-the range Nike trainers I think this is me just trying to make sure I have the right gear, but really it’s me trying to get my Wholeness back. If I check into a nail bar to get my nails done I might think I’m treating myself, or making sure that I look the best I can, but again it’s my lost Wholeness that I’m after. I’m always after my lost Wholeness! If I get lots of ‘likes’ for the post I put up on Facebook the pleasant feeling of validation I get is really all about me trying to be Whole again. If people respect or approve of me because of the position I hold in society it’s the same thing. If I’m made keen for gambling it’s because I hope to get my inner freedom back when the dice fall right for me. If the team I support wins the match and I am ‘over the moon’ this represents to me – in an inaccessibly symbolic way – the recovery of my Wholeness. If I get a promotion in my job before my co-worker or manage to buy a better car than my neighbour can afford it’s the same thing...


In general (and even though it might on the face of it sound totally preposterous) whenever we achieve one of our ‘purposes’ we get a little jolt of satisfaction, a little jolt of pleasure and the reason for this is that we have unconsciously allowed ourselves to feel that in this way we have recovered a little bit of what we have lost (even though we do not consciously know that we have lost anything). This is of course also the reason we feel so aggrieved or annoyed when we have been thwarted in successfully carrying out our purposeful behaviour. This is the reason we get in bad form when things don’t work out for us in the way that we would have liked for them to – because (unconsciously) we feel that we have thereby been denied what is rightfully ours, i.e. our Wholenesss. We experience euphoria when we allow ourselves to unconsciously feel that we have regained a little bit of what we have lost but cannot admit to having lost, and we experience negative-euphoria (or dysphoria) when we are denied the possibility of conveniently fooling ourselves in this way!


If there wasn’t this unconscious agenda for me engaging in whatever purposeful activity it is that I am engaged in then there wouldn’t be the satisfaction on the one hand or the dissatisfaction on the other when my plans are either met or thwarted. There wouldn’t be the ‘up’ or ‘down’ in my mood that comes with getting my own way or not getting it. We’re so used to experiencing satisfaction / dissatisfaction with regard to whether things work out for us or not that saying what we have just said sounds rather strange to us. It sounds strange at first (perhaps) but when we reflect on the matter we can of course see the sense in it. If I am in genuinely good form (i.e. if I am genuinely happy in myself) then no matter how things work out for me in the arena of daily life I am going to have my peace of mind. I am OK in myself no matter whether I ‘do well’ or ‘don’t do well’. It’s equal. I’m not invested in outcomes – success or failure in my daily goal-orientated activities does not seem like a ‘life or death’ matter. I don’t get cranky when things fail to go my way, in other words. To give a more extreme example of the same thing – if another motorist slips into ‘my’ parking space before I do I don’t explode into sudden homicidal rage!


When we feel deep-down happiness then we have a ‘lighter touch’ in life. We’re not ‘heavy-handed’; we’re not being viciously competitive in every little thing. We’re not ‘playing to win’ the whole time (even though this attitude is culturally approved of) – winning isn’t actually that important to us (actually it isn’t important at all). People only want to win all the time (and feel the euphoria of winning) when they are miserable inside, when they are driven by unacknowledged inner pain. When we’re genuinely happy then we are no longer ‘heavy game-players’ – no longer are we being so ridiculously serious and humourless about everything. We’ve got nothing to prove, no axe to grind. We know that we’re already ‘rich inside’ and so we don’t have to obsessively chase after external treasures, external prizes. We’re not driven by an inner deficit and so we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to be devious and calculating, we don’t need to be strung out and mean…


We can express all of the above by saying that there are two modalities which we can be in – either we can be serious and driven, or we can be light and playful. Being light and playful doesn’t mean that we aren’t being ‘responsible’ or ‘mature’ or that we’re somehow being flippant about life – it simply means that we haven’t got a hidden agenda in everything we do! It means that we’re being honest with ourselves and others; it means that we have integrity; it means that we are conscious and sensitive rather than being goal-orientated and controlling. It means that we’re not cut off from who we really are. We’re Whole, rather than being ‘fractions who don’t know that they are fractions’ (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces).


There’s a kind of a Catch 22 in this though. If we hadn’t already ‘lost our qualitative essence’ then we wouldn’t be going around being heavily and humourless purposeful the whole time. We won’t be losing our inherent lightness in everything we do. But on the other hand if we already had lost our essential Wholeness (i.e. forgotten our true nature) then we are of course going to be invested in heavy-duty purposefulness, heavy-duty game-playing, heavy-duty rationality, and so we’re going to be in even more of a bad situation than we were to start off with. It’s a slippery slope and we’ve already started slipping! The thing we’re doing to help ourselves is the very thing that is getting us into more and more trouble. The remedy that we’re turning is creating more pain for us rather helping us – the ‘remedy’ is in fact the cause of the pain that we’re trying to escape from…


There is a way out from the Catch 22 however, but it just isn’t the one that we’re looking for. The fundamental cause of our addiction to unreflective purposefulness is our unconsciousness, which is to say our lack of insight into what we are actually doing and why. As long as we allow our attention to be magnetically fixated upon the ‘outer world’ of our goals and purposes (i.e. what we are supposedly hoping to achieve with our purposeful activity) then we are turning our back on what our real motivation is. Our real motivation – as we have been arguing – is to escape from a type of pain that we don’t actually admit to having. But suppose our motivation were different? Suppose that instead of the unconscious motivation to escape from a type of pain that we don’t admit to having we had the conscious motivation to find out what is really happening with us?


In this case, instead of constantly fleeing into the world of external goals we would pay attention to our own interiority (which is to say, the precious inner life that unreflective purposefulness ignores so thoroughly). Purposefulness (or ‘controlling’) has no role to play here, clearly. We’re not trying to do anything with this inner pain that we’re running away from, we’re just being sensitive to it being there. If the truth is that I am feeling pain inside, then I heed that truth. ‘Controlling’ and ‘truth’ aren’t two words that go together, after all! The lack of Wholeness is the injury that we do not admit to, that we dare not admit to. If ever an intimation of this loss comes our way it is tinged with such an intense ‘bitter-sweet flavour’ that we cannot bear it – we instantly move on from it, we habitually disregard it. It is as if we can see how we ourselves have betrayed ourselves and this is of course the one thing we don’t want to see. We therefore engage in unreflective purposeful behaviour and this straightaway causes us to forget! Unreflective purposeful behaviour is our Nepenthe. Keeping ourselves eternally busy (or entertained) is our nepenthe.  It is the lotus fruit / flower we are forever snacking on…


If we didn’t instantly turn away however then it would be a different story – if we didn’t turn away so heedlessly, so disinterestedly, we might realize that ‘seeing that we have forgotten something’ is the same as remembering it! We might realize that (as Kevin Ayers puts it in Eleanor’s Cake Which Ate Her) – ‘maybe what you’ve lost you’ve found’.









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